Just over 6 years ago, my husband Jim died, aged 49, after an 8 month illness. His prognosis was terminal
from the start. After that first meeting with the consultant, we were initially in denial. Cognitively we knew that his chances of survival were negligible, but I set about researching miracle cures. I simply couldn’t contemplate life without him. I’d had a string of unsuitable boyfriends before I met Jim, and had spent quite a lot of my twenties single, and I felt so lucky to have found this dashing, effortlessly cool, funny, loving man. He was a one-off. The idea of losing him was devastating.
So the search began for the miracle cure: I’d always been interested in health and food (I think because my own dad was a nutritionist and used to give us the exact nutritional breakdown of our tea!) but now it became an obsession. Jim humoured me, but would only go so far: he was willing to eat more greens and beans for my sake, but he refused to go to Japan for cutting edge cancer treatment. He was prepared to tolerate the leaves and the odd raw garlic clove, but I couldn’t persuade him to cut down on his favourite apricot pastries and Wispa bars.
Self care went out of the window
As I imagine any carer of a sick loved one will tell you, self-care tends to go out of the window in these circumstances. As Jim lost weight, I put it on, especially around my middle, where the dangerous visceral fat resides. I’d previously spent much of my adult life on a diet but during Jim’s illness I couldn’t have given a monkeys about that, or any aspect of my own health. So although I was reading about the best food to eat and habits to develop for longevity, I wasn’t applying much of it to myself.
After Jim’s death, initially I felt that – other than making sure my kids were safe – I was done with life. I’ve always liked charts and thought about designing one which allowed me to tick off the years I’d have to live on without him, until I could maybe meet him again in another dimension.
But I had three teenagers and an elderly mum depending on me, so in the meantime I needed to do something about my energy levels. I was depleted and exhausted, at a time when I needed to step up, be both parents for the kids and keep a roof over our heads. I wasn’t sleeping well, I was drinking like a fish to take the edge off things, and eating (& feeding the kids and Mum) too much super-quick, super-easy, ultra-processed food: frozen pizza, pasta with ready made sauces, breakfast bars.
And at least until they were adults, I had a huge sense of responsibility to be around. Who’d look after them if something happened to me?
The Widowhood effect
Studies show that becoming widowed is associated with a 48% increase in risk of mortality. It’s known as the Widowhood effect. So in a bid to improve my energy levels and make sure I survived for my kids, I consulted a nutritionist. I cleaned up my diet, replacing the junk with mostly real food, and drank a lot less alcohol. I noticed an immediate improvement in energy as I learned to manage my insulin with more protein, fibre and healthy fats. And – at the risk of tmi – a treatment-resistant verruca I’d had since my twenties magically disappeared, from which I inferred that my immune system had been given a boost.
And then at some point I discovered Time Restricted Eating, one of the big mammas of good health habits, alongside sleep, movement and mindfulness. When I did some research into the science of it, I was blown away by all the benefits in terms of health and longevity, as well as weight loss. It’s honestly the simplest, cheapest, most natural way to get more energy, be the weight you want to be and have the best possible chance of a longer health-span. Not just a longer life-span (who wants to live longer in a nursing home?). What I mean by health-span is more time in the best possible physical state to be able do what you love, with the people you love. Adding more life to your years, not just years to your life.
But it can be hard to maintain good habits. Why? Because although I had the nutritionist’s fabulous advice and I’d begun to understand the science behind it, I hadn’t changed my mindset, so I kept taking one step forward, one (or more) steps back.
Changing my mindset
I had developed an unhelpful story about myself and my life.
It said that in middle age, and after losing Jim, I couldn’t expect to have as much energy or zest for life as before, right?
Wrong: since adopting TRE and the other habits I cover in my course, I have truly never had more energy, and my healthier physiology has massively improved my psychological health.
That I was too old now to shift that weight because I was in the menopause years, and our metabolism slows down, right?
Wrong: science shows that this doesn’t happen until our sixties.
That it would be too hard and miserable to get back into shape – it would require deprivation and not being able to eat my favourite foods, right?
Wrong: TRE is much easier than any weight loss diet I’ve done, its benefits are more profound and I have a sense of food freedom I’ve never experienced before.
Making my dream a reality
For many years I’d harboured a dream to train as a life coach. I’d used a great variety of personal development strategies, and already had a shelf full of self improvement books. Years ago I’d met a Co-Active coach through a friend, with whom I had just one session that left a big impression on me. I knew back then – that’s what I want to do. To become skilled at exploring people’s inner landscapes with them. Accompany them to places they wouldn’t go alone. Be a thinking-partner and a catalyst for change. I decided it was now time – since circumstances had forced me to re-design my future – to take the leap.
Did I do OK?
In the hospice, Jim had asked the question “did I do ok?”, meaning, as a barrister, husband, father, human being. He had done more than ok, and was widely loved for it. His question led me to think about what my own deathbed would feel like. I wanted to put my focus on having a positive impact on the people already known to me, and those I hadn’t met yet. I became certified with the industry’s largest coaching school, The Co-Active Training Institute, renowned for the rigour of its training. It felt like coming home. My mojo was returning. I began to feel excited about life again.
During coach training, you receive coaching yourself. When I took my struggle to maintain good health habits to my coach, it was transformative. Through coaching I got powerfully connected to my vision and my purpose and from that place, sticking with better habits became so much easier.
The benefits of Time Restricted Eating
So now I almost never break my TRE habit. I would no more eat or drink calories first thing or last thing at night than fail to brush my teeth. I eat real food. I move a lot more than I used to. I sleep better. As a result I find myself in my mid-fifties with a new lease of life. I have more energy than I’ve ever had. I’m stronger. Brain fog is generally a thing of the past. My tastes have changed and I’m mostly liberated from cravings for junk food. I savour and enjoy my food, without guilt, more than ever before. And I’m the weight I want to be, consistently, for the first time in my adult life, which brings me a lot of joy.
What I love about Time Restricted Eating (& some other habits that prime my mind and body for it) is that what’s good for me now is great for my long term health as well. I’m doing my best to take care of my body so that I have the energy and health to dance, play, contribute and generally squeeze the juice out of life well into the future. Live a vibrantlife. And be independent, and be there for my kids for as long as possible. There are no guarantees about that, but if I do my best, I can have no regrets.
And that’s why I created the 7 Habits for a Vibrant Life Time Restricted Eating program. I’m on a mission to help as many mid-life women as I can to get this for themselves. Having this purpose is in itself a powerful, proven life-hack to increase my chances of a longer health-span. I’m very grateful to have found something I’m so excited about.
I am so not done with life.
Find out more about Liz’s Coaching For A Vibrant Life programmes HERE
By Liz Withyman